Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fun Playing With Issan/Esarn/ Northern-style Thai in NY

We spent last weekend making our final 2010 visit to family in the New York suburbs. While I might normally report chronologically on food fun of interest for the whole trip in one post, this restaurant was so amazing that it gets its own spotlight. Shortly before we departed, I read a Facebook post from Cleveland culinary media professional Heidi Robb about a Thai restaurant she had just visited in Woodside, Queens. Heidi had been living in New York City for several weeks, working on several television projects, including Mad Hungry with Lucinda Scala Quinn. When she posted a mouthwatering photo of Thai Papaya Salad, I knew I had to have it - or something darn similar!

Since Heidi was unable to join us, we decided to drive through the City and dine at the North Williston (Nassau County) location of SriPraPhai. The menu was huge! How to choose from so many amazing-looking dishes? (And I do mean that the dishes looked amazing - for the menu includes photographs of most of the dishes.) Somehow, we narrowed it down to three items

We began with one of several available variations on the Papaya Salad listed under Appetizers. Note that there are some inconsistencies between the on-line menu and the restaurant menu, so the item numbers or descriptions may vary a little. The info below is from the restaurant menu.

Papaya Salad with Crispy Catfish Meat (A-3)

This plate packed powerful flavors and spices together with sweet papaya and catfish flavor - though there wasn't any catfish flesh to speak of. The catfish was completely crisped, offering a different type of crunch than the papaya noodles did, and they played well together. We asked for our food spicy and got it that way - and here the chili heat balanced out a strong presence of fish sauce, savory peanuts, and sweet grape tomatoes, together with tender haricot verts and carrot sticks. Lovely.

Thai noodles served w. northern style curry, herbs, ground pork and spare rib (N-11)

Heidi had noted now rarely northern style Thai dishes could be found in US restaurants, so I jumped at the chance to try it.

This bowl brimmed with goodness - two types of pork, tomato-based curry, peanuts, and spices (and yes, we asked for spicy and it arrived spicy).

The bowl was accompanied by crispy bean sprouts, sauteed dried chilies, and preserved vegetable. I'd never tasted the Thai version of the latter; it was cleaner in flavor than the more spicy Sichuan Preserved Vegetable I am more accustomed to, with a little kick of vinegar. There were also cucumbers on the plate, but somehow Bob got all of those.

I've eaten noodles in many forms in many places, but I wasn't sure what to make of this plate. The bowl was so full already. If it was intended to be eaten as a soup, wouldn't it all be in one  (larger) bowl? Should the noodles be dipped in the bowl, the way sticky rice is used as a utensil to eat other Thai dishes? Hmmm. Well, the fresh rice noodles were too hot to handle with fingers, so that wasn't the answer.

So, I used a fork to dip noodles in the sauce, then spooned some topping out onto them on my serving plate. It worked.

A few minutes later, when our server came to check on us, I asked her how this dish should be eaten. She said that the noodles should be put into the bowl, and the contents eaten from there. Ok, so I was close.

This dish was a true symphony of flavors - just enough heat to make me sweat, with tender meats that had sponged up intense flavors in the cooking process. The noodles maintained their toothiness even after bathing in the rich sauce.

Bob opted for a dish from the "A La Carte" section of the menu - larger portions than the dishes from the "over rice" section of the menu. Rice would thus also be a la carte.

First - the rice:

Coconut Rice (side order)

Is there a more perfect accompaniment to Thai spicy food than sticky rice that has been cooked with coconut milk?

Roasted duck in hot and spicy curry sauce w. Thai eggplant and bamboo shoot (C-18)

This photo does not do any justice at all to the complex flavors and textures in this dish. The duck meat was perfectly cooked and imbued with a spicy curry that was completely different from the flavor profile of the noodle dish. The eggplants still had a bit of texture, but had also absorbed the wonderful flavors from the sauce.

Though the price point for each dish was around $10 (plus $2 for the rice, and our beverages), the portions were more than ample. We were very hungry when we started, and stuffed when we finished, and we still took home a generous left-overs bag.

The contemporary space initially surprised me a little, but only added to our enjoyment of the meal. I'll leave you with this image - never seen a wineglass-storage chandelier before.

Thank you, Heidi, for recommending SriPraPhai. We'd never have found it without you, and we'd have missed all this fun playing with authentic Thai food!

1 comment:

  1. I was disappointed to not make it for dinner, to be sure.
    I'm glad you enjoyed Sripraphai as much as I did - can't wait to get back. Mouthwatering post!